APEIRANTHOS AND EASTERN NAXOS

Apei­ranthos (25.5km from the port) is a very different world from Chora, and even from the Trageia below it. High up, steep and often cloud-strafed, the forbidding settlement of marble houses and marble streets is cut off from the rest of the island by the sharp central ridge of mountains which runs at a height of 750–850m directly behind the village. The Naxiots believe the village was originally settled by Cretans in the 10th century. Theodeore Bent commented that ‘everywhere on Naxos they have a bad word for the people of Apeiranthos; a village of robbers‘¦ away in the mountains’. Because of its r moteness (until the asphalt road was built), it has always been an independent and naturally conservative community: this has meant that it has preserved traditions of song and dance and versifying which other communities have lost, and which still emerge at celebratory occasions such as baptisms and weddings.
   Apei­ranthos remains the principal point of reference for the unpopulated eastern half of the island, and the roads to the north, northeast and southeast corners of the island all pass through it. Because it clings to a marblescarp, the village has no natural centre but spreads to either side of a winding central street paved in marble. The thoroughfare begins beside the finely carved gateposts of the broad-set, 18th century church of the Panaghia Apeiranthiissa, and curves round the hill, passing ter races of prosperous houses, sometimes set back behind a solid ‘fence’ or balcony of white marble panels and posts—a feature unique to Apeiranthos. The street opens sufficiently to accommodate a tiny shaded plateia partly tucked beneath a section of the natural rock scarp which weeps water onto the marble steps below. From above, the two 17th century ‘Pyrgi’ of the Zevgoli and Bardanis families dominate the village.
   Of the four small museums—the Geology Museum, Natural History Museum (palaeontology, fossils and marine specimens), Folklore Museum (textiles, embroideries and domestic objects) and the Archaeology Museum—the last should not be missed, even though its opening times can be hard to predict. (Open summer only 9–3, closed Mon) It exhibits Cycladic artefacts from the 3rd millennium bc—bowls, ‘chalices’, figurines and clay pieces, among which is a burnished and perforated clay cup with a handle which has been dubbed an ‘incense burner’. The collection’s most remarkable treasures are the rough-hewn limestone slabs whose smoothest faces have been decorated with *pecked and chipped designs showing the life of early Bronze Age man: human figures husbanding horned animals, men apparently standing in a boat, etc. These come from the excavations of what may have been an open-air shrine on the island’s east coast, south of Kanaki, at Korfi tou Aroniou; they are dated to the late 3rd millenniumBC.
   The area immediately around Apeiranthos has a number of fine early Byzantine churches. The most notable is Aghia Kyriaki­ Kaloni­s (14), which has an array of rare, 9th century aniconic wall-paintings. The church lies camouflaged (though not out of sight) against the stony hillside in the deep valley to the northeast of the village. (A foot-path, c. 4.5km, descends from the main road almost opposite the small ‘Natural History Museum’, and takes at least one hour each way. Unlocked.)

This is the last and perhaps most unusual of the group of churches with aniconic decorations of the 9th century. Al though only fragmentary, they nonetheless reward the long walk here. The designs are of greatest interest in the lower apse where a dozen fantastic birds (?roosters)—perhaps symbolising the Apostles who would normally be figured here—as well as palm trees and fish, fill the space. The birds have plumes and strange knobs on their joints, and are more gracefully depicted on the right, than on the left—as if by two different hands. The remainder of the decoration which patchily covers the surfaces of the sanctuary is predominantly patterned or marbled. The church is constructed in dry masonry and floored with large flagstones; the megalithic posts and lintel of the west door from the narthex, enhance the overall impression of entering an ancient tomb, which is only alleviated by the luminous cupola. It is probable that the whole ensemble of the church—the main aisle and sanctuary, the subsidiary aisle to the south, and the narthex— was conceived as a unified design.

   In the cultivated valley to the south of Apeiranthos (east of the main road) are the adjacent, painted churches of Aghios Pachomios and Aghios Giorgios (U). (On arriving in Apeiranthos from the south, take the concrete road to right immediately on entering habitation.) The smaller church, Aghios Giorgios, dating from the ?11th century, is now in poor condition and has only vestiges of painting (dated 1254 from the inscription); the masonry templon screen in the interior is—unusually—a structural element partially supporting the dome here. Aghios Pachomios, of the 13th century, conserves fine paintings, however. The Transfiguration (south), Crucifixion (north), Archangel Michael, and St John (northwest pendentive) are noteworthy, as are the full-length Angels of the dome. Further east from the two churches, built against an overhang in the rock are the ruins of Aghios Ermolaos with traces of an-iconic decoration (mainly geometric patterns) in the vault.

Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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